Research Outline

Dead Man's Switch


To obtain a list of existing software or programs performing dead man's switches, with a particular focus on examples being used in media, journalism, and activism.

Early Findings


  • A digital "dead man's switch" is a program designed to check in with the user periodically and, if the user doesn't respond within a given time frame, release certain materials, photos, documents, or correspondences either to the public or to certain designated recipients.
  • This type of program has a number of potential uses, one of which is as "insurance against violence or intimidation for journalists".
  • These programs are desirable because, as they're digitized, they're protected against censorship or other foils, such as the sender losing the ability to trigger the response.
  • Dead man's switches are also commonly used and referred to in politics, both in digitized and other formats.


  • The company Dead Man's Switch offers a number of digital packages offering dead man's switch programs.
  • The packages allow users to write and prescribe the recipients of emails, which will automatically be sent if periodic emails are not acknowledged by the user.
  • The company offers two accounts: one free, and one costing a one-time fee of $20.
  • With the free account, users are allowed to write up to two emails with two recipients each, whereas paid customers can write up to 100 emails for 100 recipients each.
  • Another company offering dead man's switch programs is Deadman, which allows users to receive periodic contact via phone, text, or e-mail. Should the contact be ignored, it will trigger the release of as many photos, documents, or electronic files as the user designates to as many people as are identified.
  • The company offers a variety of packages designed for various situations, one of which is the "whistle-blower" package. "Going to blow the whistle? Upload your important data to Deadman for safe keeping--Deadman will send it to whoever you want if you can't be reached. In case anyone asks: it's in good hands."
  • Users can sign up for free via Google, Facebook, Twitter, or email.
  • Though not explicitly termed a "dead man's switch", Google has a program called Inactive Account Manager which "is a way for users to share parts of their account data or notify someone if they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time".
  • Google reviews a variety of data, including "your last sign-ins, your recent activity in My Activity, usage of Gmail (e.g., the Gmail app on your phone), and Android check-ins" in order to determine whether a user is active. If it's found that they're not, a response is triggered which shares designated account materials with a designated recipient.